Reviews by Barbara O. (Maryland Heights, MO)

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The Smallest Lights in the Universe: A Memoir
by Sara Seager
Room for All in the Universe (7/7/2020)
"The Smallest Lights in the Universe" a memoir by Sara Seager is a thoughtful read. Sara, an astrophysicist, discovers her life's passion for stars as a child on her first camping trip. Despite a challenging childhood, shuttled between two different and less than ideal parental homes, Sara successfully pursues and achieves a career in science. Sara reveals a very human story, imparts a lesson in astrophysics that isn't overwhelming with technical language and leaves the reader with admiration for her achievements and her tragedies. Book clubs would enjoy this book. We're all different, we all have a unique place in our universe just like the stars.
The Last Train to Key West
by Chanel Cleeton
The Last Train to Key West (3/21/2020)
A book to read with a pot of tea at your side in a comfy chair. "The Last Train to Key West" is the story of three very different women at a crossroads in their lives each challenged in a unique way to survive a natural weather disaster. The storm's magnitude and it's aftermath set the women on a course for their future. I enjoyed the author's writing style and ability to physically describe the people and their surroundings. The plot of the story allows all three women to cross paths then interact once again in the aftermath of the devastating hurricane. Overall a very entertaining read.
Creatures
by Crissy Van Meter
Creatures in Depth (10/9/2019)
The deeper I got into the book, the more I liked "Creatures" and it's deeply flawed characters. It's a powerful story about love. Not the romantic kind, not the kind with a fairy tale ending but the messy kind. Loving someone despite their flaws, their inability to parent and inability to communicate. Loving when it's hard. I really enjoyed this book and the author's style of slowly revealing Evie's story, her love for the creatures in the sea and her love for her island home. I loved the inhabitants of Winter Island.
The Seine: The River that Made Paris
by Elaine Sciolino
History, Geography and Travelogue of the Seine (9/21/2019)
An homage to Paris and the river that flows through its heart. Elaine Sciolino writes a wonderful book about the Seine and how it became so closely identified with the City of Romance. Readers will discover lots of well researched facts and interesting historical anecdotes that drew so many people to Paris and made the River Seine world renowned. The book will appeal to both armchair travelers and provoke memories for those people lucky enough to have lived or traveled to Paris. This is a lovely book and a must read for the Francophile.
D-Day Girls: The Spies Who Armed the Resistance, Sabotaged the Nazis, and Helped Win World War II
by Sarah Rose
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary courage, these Women answered that Call (3/14/2019)
Sarah Rose reveals the back story of the D-Day Girls and the secret organization they worked for, the SOE. The extraordinary decision (for the time) to recruit women to act as spies and saboteurs, to send them behind enemy lines was born out of necessity and a terrible truth, there weren't enough men available to recruit and England was the lone country standing in Hitler's path.
The stories of these women (and men) are reminders of the courage, ingenuity and love of country that drove these people to volunteer despite the danger and poor odds they faced.
These names should be revered and acknowledged for we owe them a great debt. Kudos to author, Sarah Rose for giving us a well researched, well written book that deserves to be read and discussed. Loved it.
House of Stone
by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
A Mystery set against History (12/17/2018)
Reading House of Stone was a challenge. The author uses the mystery of the missing son, Bukhosi, against the backdrop of the fall of Rhodesia and the bloody birth of Zimbabwe. Zamani, a foster son of Agnes and Abednego will do whatever it takes to learn the family history as he insinuates himself into the Mlambo family's story. It's a dark story filled with rape and massacre, dreams and secrets almost an allegory-of the birth of Zimbabwe after the civil war and riots of a people taking back their story and country once ruled by colonialists.
I enjoyed the storytelling but did find it difficult to follow the story line and the characters. I would have preferred a more direct history telling using the same characters. I hope this author continues to write.
Paris Echo
by Sebastian Faulks
Journeying Paris through the wonders of the Metro (8/6/2018)
Beautiful language echoing two different life journeys for two very different individuals both in Paris seeking similar resolutions. Hannah, researching women's lives in World War II and Tariq, drawn to Paris to learn more about his mother's roots. Two different paths, cleverly intertwined with the rich history of Paris yet similar in their search. Lots of discussion points for book clubs are raised in this book. The moral choices faced and made during Nazi occupation but also the same choices created by the French Algerian crisis in the 60's. This book is filled with rich imagery juxtaposing Tariq's Paris journey in the immigrant neighborhoods and Hannah's world of academia. Loved experiencing Paris through both sets of eyes.
Vox
by Christina Dalcher
Speechless! (5/3/2018)
I read Christina Dalcher's book "Vox" in one sitting. This dystopian novel relates an eerily believable story of how women and girls lose their right to speak. Although a work of fiction, the author creates an environment, born in a time of conflicting values that results in a country taken over by a religious fanatic and how rights are slowly taken away. A great story for everyone, not just women. Book clubs should look to put this book on their must reads upon it's release. Christina Dalcher is a master storyteller. I loved this book.
A Place for Us
by Fatima Farheen Mirza
A Modern Family (3/18/2018)
It's a lovely treat meeting the family in this book. "A Place For Us" is the story of an American Indian Muslim family replete with all the typical problems raising a family can bring in today's world. It's a wonderful insight to a Muslim family, devoted to raising their children in the principles of their religion, but the more I read the more I was struck by how we are really all the same. There is a softness to this book, a pervasive sadness in all the characters but I enjoyed the book. The author has achieved a strong sense of feeling throughout her story whether intentional or not.
The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After
by Elizabeth Weil, Clemantine Wamariya
A Powerful Story with a Beautiful Message "I Am Me" (2/6/2018)
Reading "The Girl Who Smiled Beads" hurt my heart. How does a 6 year old even have the vocabulary to describe the nightmare world she experienced? This book is a must read, beautifully written, disturbing and eye opening. We all need to know, on a personal level, what happens when human beings find themselves in the middle of conflict. Despite the ugliness of genocide, this book describes human resilience and the strength of love and goodness and the determination to be counted. This book should be read and discussed.
Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
by Mario Giordano
A Different Kind of Detective Story (1/4/2018)
A fun read but sometimes a bit too filled with geographical facts that distract from the flow of the story. Auntie Poldi is an eccentric "Auntie Mame" like character, larger than life and bent on solving a crime. The story was entertaining and I would recommend it as a good beach or travel read. For those that have visited or lived in Sicily, familiarity with the towns might be better appreciated.
Force of Nature: A Novel
by Jane Harper
Indeed A Force! (10/11/2017)
Loved the writing style of Jane Harper, moving back and forth, slowly revealing the story. Ms Harper creates strong characters juxtapositioned with a harsh and unforgiving landscape. Readers will keep turning the pages until the end. A wonderful storyteller, the author uses the modern world with all it's social issues and character flaws to tell this tale. I look forward to reading more books by this author.
Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After
by Heather Harpham
Joy and Happiness in the Unexpected. (6/13/2017)
I loved this book, I loved everything about this book. Life is a crooked little road filled with detours and bumps and great joy, scary paths and sorrow but it's life in all it's messy glory. I loved Heather Harpham's words, I savored them as well as her story. The author's sense of humor is her saving grace, the way to cope and frankly the best way to see anyone through the challenges life often brings. This book would make an excellent book club selection.
The Twelve-Mile Straight: A Novel
by Eleanor Henderson
Rural Southern America, A Dark Tale (4/29/2017)
Eleanor Henderson has written a wonderful book filled with larger than life characters that intrigue you with their behaviors. The Twelve Mile Straight is a period piece set in Depression era rural Georgia. The story has it all, rape, lynchings, social hierarchy, sinners and saints. The author strips away the wholesome facade and gives us a story about real people, neither all bad nor all good. Book club members will find lots to discuss starting with the individual characters depicted in the book. Still can't decide my favorite.
The Barrowfields
by Phillip Lewis
A Different Love Story (2/13/2017)
A dark coming of age story. The relationship between father and son can be challenging no matter the setting but in this story, the isolated mountain town adds another layer to the tale. The author uses language that paints wonderful visual images and will delight wordsmiths and music lovers. His characters will feel real to you and leave you thinking about them long after you reach the end. I devoured this book.
Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family's Genetic Destiny, and the Science That Rescued Them
by Gina Kolata
Outstanding and Inspirational! (10/29/2016)
I devoured this book in less than a day. The author, Gina Kolata, does a masterful job introducing the reader to a little known genetically inherited disease with no cure. The story introduces us to a small town Southern family giving GSS a "real" face. You will love and admire these people as you follow their story and their quest to diagnose the illness that has manifested itself in the family's patriarch. The resultant questions and the individual decisions and impact on each family member keep you engaged and emotionally invested in their story. I cannot say enough about the dignity and courage of this family as they make their decisions once they learn the identity of this disease and it's physical impact on their loved ones. I was left wondering, what would I do? It's a beautiful story and hopeful despite this disease's inevitable physical impact.
Victoria
by Daisy Goodwin
Victoria, Before Albert (10/12/2016)
This is a wonderful book revealing the story of the young Victoria, one of England's most famous and long-serving Monarchs. How does a sheltered young woman suddenly become queen and negotiate her way through all the political intrigue and find her true self? Daisy Goodwin presents us with a delightful story of the young Victoria, a young woman with all her thoughts and feelings learning to become her own person. Victoria becomes real to the reader, a lovely young woman and not the severe Queen we are familiar with from her portrait in our history books. A wonderful story for those of us that love reading about the English aristocracy. Bravo!
The Book That Matters Most: A Novel
by Ann Hood
Great Read (6/5/2016)
Ann Hood's new book is wonderful. Loved how she used a monthly Book Club book choice and calendar as chapters to advance time in her story. This is a great book for book clubs with plenty of themes for discussion: divorce, parenting and personal growth. The added bonus of additional books to read was much appreciated. I love Ann Hood's characters, they are real people and the reader may even know people just like them.
Miss Jane
by Brad Watson
A Charming Period Piece to Treasure (3/25/2016)
I'd give this book six stars if I could. The language in this book is sensual filled with beautiful descriptions of nature. The writer does a remarkable job presenting Jane Chisolm and her physical deformity with grace and dignity. The reader will appreciate the slow pace of this book with its beautiful language. I have not read anything like this story in a long time. Book clubs will enjoy this book.
The Widow
by Fiona Barton
Dark thriller (11/30/2015)
How well do we really know someone, even our spouse? "The Widow". Is a skillfully told story alternating in time and from different points of view. The reader is led through layers of the dark world of the pedophile. Book clubs will argue whether or not a wife "knows". The author makes a great case why she may not. Fast read with a nice twist.
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